2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Andrew J. Marshall, Penn State (Smeal)

Andrew J. Marshall

The Pennsylvania State University, Smeal College of Business

Strategy nerd who loves to tackle “white space” opportunities.”

Hometown: North Wales, PA

Fun fact about yourself:My favorite ice-cream flavor is bubblegum.

Undergraduate School and Degree: The Pennsylvania State University, Schreyer Honors College BA and MA in Art History

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Robert Half, Creative & Marketing Recruiter

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Merck & Co.: Upper Gwynedd, PA (Virtual due to Covid-19)

Where will you be working after graduation? Merck & Co.: Senior Specialist, US Vaccines Portfolio, Strategy & Implementation in Accelerated Development Program (ADP) US Commercial Rotational Program

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

* President of Consulting Association: I became President of the Consulting Association to move the proverbial needle so that the organization would be better for the next class. Over the summer leading up to the Fall of 2020, I wrote the inaugural edition of the Smeal MBA Case Book that was roughly 200 slides long, containing an industry overview, interview guide with frameworks, and 20 practice cases. Then I formed and led a team of six second-year MBAs to act as mentors to eighteen first-year MBAs by giving mock case interviews and providing advice on recruitment. I gave presentations on the consulting industry and internal strategy opportunities. Additionally, I brought in a panel of distinguished alumni in consulting firms such as Deloitte to discuss the “Day in the Life of a Consultant”. Finally, in partnership with IBM and the Center for the Business of Sustainability, I organized the Inaugural Smeal MBA Case Competition, run by second-year MBAs for first-Year MBAs, with the competition’s final round judged by IBM’s Chief Sustainability Officer.

* President of Men as Allies: Men as Allies is an affiliate organization of the Women’s MBA Association that focuses on bringing male voices into the conversation regarding gender equity and the intersectionality of race in terms of gender discrimination. The goal of the organization is to support and amplify the voices of our fellow Women MBAs. To bring these conversations to life, I brought in Centre Safe, a local non-profit advocacy group that promotes equity. They ran a series of case discussions that illustrated gender bias in the workplace and how that bias is often more significant when involving a woman of color. These discussions sparked nuanced conversations and even some personal sharing among the participants, ultimately leading to a better collective understanding of our classmates’ varying experiences in business settings.

* Smeal Case Team Captain: Deloitte Supply Chain & Network Operations’ Supply Chain Challenge.

* Graduate Assistant: Communication Skills for Leaders, a first-year MBA yearlong communications course.

* Bunton Waller Fellow: Merit based full tuition funding with a graduate stipend.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of organizing the Inaugural Smeal MBA Case Competition. As the President of the Consulting Association, I wanted to increase my classmates’ competitiveness in case competitions. I decided that the best way to learn would be through experience and “pulling back the curtain” on how judges evaluate case competitions. I assembled a group of second-year MBA subject matters experts who would judge the contestants’ communication, strategy, and implementation. The judges would then provide the team with an extensive feedback session immediately following their presentation, and after the competition concluded, I sent all the teams their judges’ scorecards.

As for the case itself, I collaborated with Wayne Balta, the Chief Sustainability Officer at IBM, to develop a case that was a real-life issue currently facing IBM’s clients regarding the credibility and veracity of carbon offsets. Wayne was kind enough to watch the competition’s final round, in secret, not to add un-due pressure to the first-year finalist teams. At the end of the competition, we revealed that we had the real-life protagonist of the case, and Wayne went on to provide some valuable insight into why he thinks the winnings team’s case was the soundest and most likely to be executed by IBM. Everyone immensely enjoyed the “pulling back the curtain” nature of the case competition, and it sparked a desire in the first-year class to compete in more case competitions. Shortly after a team of first-year Smeal MBAs, who had participated in the Case Competition, came in second at the Deloitte Supply Chain Challenge: the first Smeal team to ever place at the competition.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My proudest professional achievement was the success I had during my internship at Merck in their US Commercial internal strategy unit known as Strategy Realization. I came into the internship with imposter syndrome, having been from a primarily sales background. My project was to design the strategic plan for a data acquisition initiative to optimize sales & marketing targeting efforts for three leading vaccines brands. I led cross-functional teams consisting of data scientists, digital engagement specialists, and vaccine marketing leaders in ideation sessions to design effective strategies. I then condensed these strategies into a visualized optimal process flow with identified bottlenecks, resource allocations, and operational excellence best practices. When paired with an updated communication plan, gleaned from stakeholder interviews, this process flow led to an average reduced process time of 20% for further brand rollouts. I happily realized as I passed the project off to a consulting team that I could make an impact in a short time in a strategy-based role. I no longer had imposter syndrome and knew the function, strategy that I came to business school to get into was the right fit for me.

Why did you choose this business school? The Smeal College of Business invited me to a weekend-long recruitment event known as WE ARE Weekend. There were several dinners and informal opportunities to network with current MBAs. At one of these dinners, I sat with alums and current students, talking extensively about how they all got their jobs with their classmates’ and alumni’s help. I remember a current student told me about how he and other MBAs spent hours during the weekends locked in team rooms to prepare for their upcoming interviews for the same opportunity. When one of them heard of an opportunity, they would make sure that their fellow MBAs also heard of it and would even go as far to introduce them to the people they networked with for the opportunity. I was concerned about joining an MBA community rooted in competition; however, I could tell from that weekend alone that Smeal was a community of collaboration that I wanted to be a part of and further.

What surprised you the most about business school? What I found most surprising about business school is it attracted people from seemingly all walks of life and professions. There is also a significant diversity of thought, having seen now arguments from so many different sides. However, there is this unifying characteristic of MBAs: We all want to improve ourselves. That improvement looks different for many people, whether it be the soft skills or improving excel modeling, but it is oddly unifying. We all have a collective understanding that we are here to become better versions of ourselves, and we help each other do that by sharing our knowledge in areas that others lack. Prior to business school, I thought there was an archetype of an MBA, but now I realize the common thread is having a growth mindset.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I remember sitting across the table from Mike Waldhier, the Director of Admissions at the time, for my final interview. I had gotten to know Mike well, and I thought I had a good idea of how the interview would be. Then he hit me with this question, “You know you do not have a very quantitative background, and you don’t have the amount of work experience compared to our typical applicant. I am unsure this is the right program for you, why do you think I should let you in?” I was slightly taken off-guard but knew this was a do-or-die type question.

I explained to him that I had started two businesses on my own, one where I taught artists how to market and sell their work, the other where I brokered and appraised art on behalf of collectors. I showed Mike that I had a foundational knowledge of business and experience in marketing, sales, and complex negotiations. Finally, having been a certified fine art appraiser, I relied heavily on comparable sales data to reach accurate valuations. Not only did being an appraiser allow me to acquire works of art on behalf of my clients at below market value, but also allowed me to find a $20M dollar error in a valuation that I audited. All this showed Mike that despite my lack of work experience, my foundational knowledge and skills developed through my ventures would make me a valuable addition to the class.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Bitrus Baba the most because he has this uncanny ability to shift the entire conversation of the class in a positive and frankly often more feasible direction. Having worked in advisory for two Big Four companies prior to business school, he had a wealth of knowledge to share with our class. Our class discussions would sometimes get into the clouds, especially when it came to strategy ideation, but Bitrus would ground us. Often after Bitrus shared his more pragmatic opinions, the class would collectively take a step back and re-evaluate how we could develop an optimal and executable strategy. Without Bitrus, our professors would have had to intervene more often during our class discussions.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? When it came to the disruption because of COVID-19, I must give my professors credit. Within roughly a week, they adjusted their courses to fit the virtual environment and took into account all the concerns we voiced. In-class discussions were a little awkward with the Zoom hand raise feature substitute, but other than that, the transition to online classes was relatively seamless, thanks to our professors.

Socially speaking, the transition online took away the more interactive and invaluable informal elements of the program. We used to lock ourselves in team rooms with wall-to-wall white boards until the late hours of the night. Zoom team meetings seem to take longer now because of the lack of nuanced conversation and social signals experienced during in-person team meetings. Also, there were no longer informal conversations with classmates in halls about companies and their interactions. Zoom happy hours replaced our weekly happy hour, and any time you wanted to connect with your classmates, we settled for texting.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? The person who most influenced my decision to pursue business school was my Arts Entrepreneurship Professor in Undergrad, Dr. Gangi. He taught me that passion alone is not enough to run a successful business. In his classes, I had to develop several business models that combined marketing, finance, and operations elements, all areas where I had very little formal knowledge. I knew that if I was serious about being a successful serial entrepreneur, I should get a business degree.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. Own and operate my own art gallery.
  2. Create generational wealth from my investment portfolio.

What made Andrew such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“From the moment I first met Andrew Marshall, at the initial session of my MBA elective on Strategy Implementation, I could tell that he was going to be a central contributor to the success of the course. Despite our masks and social distancing, I could immediately see that he was consistently upbeat and constructive; as our sessions progressed, I also saw ample evidence of his deep preparation and broad-gauged managerial talents. For this particular course, students must be analytically capable, endowed with reliable judgment about social and human behavior, and they must be able to effectively communicate their insights. Andrew excelled in the course by virtue of possessing this full slate of qualities.

In turn, it is little surprise that I witnessed immense respect for Andrew from his classmates. They carefully listened to, and leveraged, his contributions to our case discussions. They exhibited a real fondness for the guy – even in their socially-distanced high-fives. And his group project teammates gave him rave reviews for the quantity, quality, and constructive style of his inputs to their collective work.

Andrew is the kind of person every B-school professor wants to teach, and he’s the kind of person every MBA student wants to have as a classmate.”

Donald C. Hambrick
Evan Pugh University Professor and
Smeal Chaired Professor of Management
The Pennsylvania State University




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